Toi Whakaari

Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School is New Zealand's foremost national drama school. It is located in Wellington, New Zealand, at a purpose built facility: Te Whaea: National Dance & Drama Centre. Toi Whakaari offers training in acting, costume construction, performing arts management – and design for stage and screen. Toi Whakaari caters to around 130 students annually, who study for up to three years.

The school produces up to six productions of various types a year, largely performed, crewed, designed by students.

Toi Whakaari is the sister school of the New Zealand School of Dance.


Te Kura Toi Whakaari O Aotearoa: NZ Drama School is the official name of the school. The Maori portion of the name translates to: a place of learning (Te Kura), performing arts (Toi Whakaari), in (O) New Zealand (Aotearoa). This titled was 'gifted' to the School in 1988 by Te Puni Kokiri (Ministry for Māori Development) in recognition of the School's bicultural work.


Toi Whakaari was established in 1970 by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, as the New Zealand Drama School,[1] with Nola Leigh Millar as its first director.

In 2005, its first year students were the subjects of a reality TV show, Tough Act. 2010 saw Toi Whakaari celebrate its 40th Anniversary. This also coincided with a book launch of the school's turbulent 40-year history. The book, titled Transitions, was written by Bill Guest, former Head of the Entertainment Technology Program & Associate Director.

Annie Ruth, one of the first acting graduates of the school, was director of the school from 1998–2011 when she was succeeded by Christian Penny, who left in 2018 to take up a role with High Performance Sport NZ.[2] In June 2019 it was announced that Tanea Heke (Ngā Puhi) would be the new Director, after six months as interim Director.[3]

Qualifications offered

The school offers the following tertiary qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Performing Arts (Acting)
  • Bachelor of Performing Arts (Management)
  • Bachelor of Design (Stage & Screen)
  • New Zealand Diploma in Scenic and Properties Construction
  • Diploma in Costume Construction (for Theatre, Film and Allied Industries)

New qualifications from 2019, pending NZQA approval

  • New Zealand Diploma in Costume Construction

On average, 200+ acting students audition for the school each year from around the country. Of these, about 50 are invited for a recall audition and further questioning before the panel selects the 20–24 first year entrants.


  1. "The rise of professional theatre, 1960 to 1980". Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  2. "Christian Penny resigns as director of Toi Whakaari". Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. 8 November 2018. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  3. "Toi Whakaari Director announced". Toi Whakaari. 17 June 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2019.

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